Photo: Benjamin Boccas
AppsFire is an app that helps you discover other apps on iPhone, Android and other platforms.We caught up with Co-Founder Ouriel Ohayon to talk about the emerging app economy, which is already a billion dollar market. For mobile app developers, getting discovered is a huge deal, and for consumers finding apps they want can be challenging. So they’re solving a big problem in a big market.
AppsFire is big and growing fast. They’ve just added a million users, with half coming in last quarter. During our conversation, Ohayon kept interrupting me to tell me how fast the app was rising through the ranks in Spain, from #8 to #4 during our conversation.
How do you promote your app and get it to a million users? Why is Apple’s app store broken? What are the shady things going on to promote apps? Ohayon is the man to talk about this stuff, so we did.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, SAI: First off, what is AppsFire exactly?
Ouriel Ohayon: AppsFire is a discovery and promotion platform for modern mobile apps. We have two activities: a B2C suite of discovery apps for iOS, Android and soon other mobile OSs, and a promotion and discovery SDK we’re about to release that will help developers cross promote each other.
SAI: So on the consumer side, you help people find apps they’ll like, and on the business side you help developers promote their apps.
Ohayon: That’s right.
SAI: How big are you guys?
Ohayon: We’re a small company, seven employees, and we just reached 1 million users using our apps, doubling size last quarter. Right now we’re a top 50 app in many countries. Right now we’re #8 in Spain, #35 in France and were #1 and 2 in Austria and Germany not too long ago.
SAI: Nice. So, why are you guys needed? Why can’t people just get their apps from the app store? Ohayon: iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7… They all have the same problem. The app stores are built like e-commerce catalogues. And catalogues are painful to browse, they’re not personalised and they are not built for discovery. The same exact problem happened with music and movies. Apps are a form of media and they require an appropriate discovery approach which stores can’t address well because of their structure.
Discovery is not an algorithm only issue. Look at Pandora for music. they obviously have built an awesome music genome behind it but most of their success is due to the gorgeous user experience. Discovery is mostly about providing a painless simple experience which is built on a great database of content.
We have built our app genome so we can help users find content and context. And stores do not provide that well enough. They require too many clicks, load slowly, provide limited elements of information on the app, like no or rarely no video demo, geographic relevance…
What we’ve learned is that users want to be at the same time surprised and feel familiarity with the discovery process. And many users have different expectations. So we have built an interface where apps come in the form of visual streams — think Pulse, Fluid, Flipboard — and where each stream corresponds to a different need. So for example, that might be price drops, geo relevancy, your friends’ apps, recommendations, collaborative filtering, etc.
In a word: our approach is visual and based on personal context, not on structured catalogues and algorithms.
SAI: Ok, so from someone who both helps people promote their apps and has his own app to promote, what do I do if I want to promote my app? It often seems that some apps blow up for no particular reason.Ohayon: First of all, you need a good app. A crappy app won’t take you anywhere.
Then there’s the classic stuff: PR, talking to influencers, media, etc.
One thing we’ve found is that paid media, like banners on AdMob, doesn’t really work that well.
And paid apps can use price shifting to get free users and then charge for the full thing.
But really, in a word, an app is like a movie. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And you need to launch it like a movie, with teasers, and a big blowout of paid and earned media. Apps need to be treated like a form of media. You need to generate word of mouth.
This is why traditional ads don’t work so well: they’re good for continuous growth, but not burst patterns.
SAI: Fascinating. Let’s talk about the shady things going on in app stores.
Ohayon: Yes, there’s definitely a dark side to the app ecosystem.
SAI: So what are some of the shenanigans going on?
Ohayon: There are sites that help you get positive reviews, for a fee of course. This is completely prohibited by Apple.
There are also all kinds of apps that claim to have “negotiated deals with app makers” and can get you apps for free, but really those apps are already free elsewhere. There are also companies that pay people to download apps, so they’ll rise up in the rankings and sell more organically. It reminds me of the shady browser toolbars in the early days of the web.
Some networks like Tapjoy have introduced a smart solution to that problem by allowing developers to pay per engagement, which is something we’re going to offer as well.
Anyway, for example we got an email from a site called postpositivereviews.com (now down) selling their service to pay people for reviews.
So there’s obviously all kinds of shady stuff going on but at the end of the day it doesn’t work. Advertisers quickly realise it when they see their stats post campaign.
SAI: Interesting. Anything else you’d like to add?
Ohayon: Not much, except we’re French and our competitors are not!
SAI: Ha! Ok. Thanks a lot.
Ohayon: Thank you.